One of the hardest parts of being a writer is finding our voice. That unique quality to our writing that makes it distinctively ours.
Finding your voice is something that will come with practise. The more you write, the more you experiment with style, the easier it will become to identify your writing style and discover your voice.
But what is voice?
Voice refers to your style of writing. It’s the language you include, the patterns you use, the techniques you incorporate. Things like staccato sentences or similes and metaphors all work together to create your voice and style.
So, how can you find and develop your voice?
Do your research
I mean, really do your research.
The first step in finding your voice is discovering authors with a style like your own or one which you would like to be able to emulate. Find books in a similar genre or style to what you’re writing and analyse the heck out of it.
Read the first page and try doing the following:
Read the page through once.
Identify the tone and voice (is it dark, suspenseful, light, fun, witty, etc.).
Count how many verbs they use.
Count how many adverbs they use.
Count how many adjectives they use. (If you’re not sure how to find this then you can type the passage into a generator like this one and analyse the text.)
Identify influential word choices that draw you into the story.
Identify their style (are the sentences short and snappy, are they long and poetic, etc.) and see if this links to the tone and voice.
Now, try to write your own passage in that author’s style and voice. You can carry on from when page one ends and write your own original piece of text to continue the story.
While you should never try to be a carbon copy of another writer, analysing the writing of successful authors can help you find your own style and understand what it is that makes their writing so impactful.
City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, adult fantasy
He was an easy mark.
Nahri smiled behind her veil, watching the two men bicker as they approached her stall. The younger one glanced anxiously down the alley while the older man—her client—sweated in the cool dawn air. Save for the men, the alley was empty; fajr had already been called and anyone devout enough for public prayer—not that there were many in her neighborhood—was already ensconced in the small mosque at the end of the street.
She fought a yawn. Nahri was not one for dawn prayer, but her client had chosen the early hour and paid handsomely for discretion. She studied the men as they approached, noting their light features and the cut of their expensive coats. Turks, she suspected. The eldest might even be a basha, one of the few who hadn’t fled Cairo when the Franks invaded. She crossed her arms over her black abaya, growing intrigued. She didn’t have many Turkish clients; they were too snobbish. Indeed, when the Franks and Turks weren’t fighting over Egypt, the only thing they seemed to agree on was that the Egyptians couldn’t govern it themselves. God forbid. It’s not as though the Egyptians were the inheritors of a great civilization whose mighty monuments still littered the land. Oh, no. They were peasants, superstitious fools who ate too many beans.
Tone & voice: witty, dry, blunt
was, smiled, watching, bicker, approached, stall, glanced, sweated, was, had, been, called, were, was, ensconced, fought, was, had, chosen, paid, studied, approached, noting, cut, suspected, might, be, fled, invaded, crossed, growing, intrigued, have, were, fighting, seemed, agree, was, govern, forbid, were, littered, were, ate
anxiously, down, already, enough, not, already, not, handsomely, even, when, too, Indeed, when, only, not, still, too
easy, younger, older, cool, empty, devout, public, many, small, early, expensive, eldest, few, hadn’t, black, didn’t, many, Turkish, snobbish, weren’t, couldn’t, great, civilization, mighty, superstitious, many
Word and phrase choices: “save for”, “ensconced”, “cut of their expensive coats”, “indeed”, “inheritors”, “mighty monuments still littered the land”
Style: long, running sentences interspersed with snappy sentences of 2-3 words. Furthers the witty, dry voice.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, mystery thriller
I forget everything between footsteps.
‘Anna!’ I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise.
My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here. I’m standing in a forest, shielding my eyes from the spitting rain. My heart’s thumping, I reek of sweat and my legs are shaking. I must have been running but I can’t remember why.
‘How did—’ I’m cut short by the sight of my own hands. They’re bony, ugly. A stranger’s hands. I don’t recognise them at all.
Feeling the first touch of panic, I try to recall something else about myself: a family member, my address, age, anything, but nothing’s coming. I don’t even have a name. Every memory I had a few seconds ago is gone.
My throat tightens, breaths coming loud and fast. The forest is spinning, black spots inking my sight.
‘I can’t breathe,’ I gasp, blood roaring in my ears as I sink to the ground, my fingers digging into the dirt.
You can breathe, you just need to calm down.
There’s comfort in this inner voice, cold authority.
Close your eyes, listen to the forest. Collect yourself.
Obeying the voice, I squeeze my eyes shut but all I can hear is my own panicked wheezing. For the longest time it crushes every other sound, but slowly, ever so slowly, I work a hole in my fear, allowing other noises to break through. Raindrops are tapping the leaves, branches rustling overhead. There’s a stream away to my right and crows in the trees, their wings cracking the air as they take flight. Something’s scurrying in the undergrowth, the thump of rabbit feet passing near enough to touch. One by one I knit these new memories together until I’ve got five minutes of past to wrap myself in. It’s enough to staunch the panic, at least for now.
Tone & voice: desperate, confused, sharp
forget, finish, shouting, snapping, shut, has, gone, know, is, calling, know, got, shielding, thumping, reek, are, shaking, must, have, been, running, remember, did, cut, recognise, Feeling, try, recall, address, coming, have, had, is, gone, tightens, coming, is, Be, breathe, gasp, sink, can, breathe, need, listen, Collect, Obeying, shut, can, hear, is, panicked, wheezing, crushes, allowing, break, are, tapping, leaves, crows, cracking, take, scurrying, passing, knit, got
why, even, how, here, why, How, else, even, ago, fast, just, down, slowly, ever, so, slowly, away, enough together, enough, now
blank, don’t, don’t, heart’s, can’t, short, own, bony, ugly, stranger’s, don’t, first, nothing’s, don’t, few, loud, spinning, black, calm, can’t, calm, inner, cold, own, longest, other, other, new, past, staunch, least
Word and phrase choices: “the first touch of panic”, “black spots inking my sight”, “cold authority”, “obeying”, “panicked wheezing”, “crushes every other sound”, “wings cracking the air”, “knit”, “staunch the panic”
Style: Short, sharp sentences to convey panic. Longer, flowing sentences as the narrator begins to calm down.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris, romance
We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement in the crowds which line the narrow main street, necks craning to catch sight of the crepe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow balloon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping-basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Tetes with their lolling papier-mache heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special lustre. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crepe and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon’s head on a shield, Rapunzel in a woollen wig, a mermaid with a Cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children… At six it is possible to perceive subtleties which a year later are already out of reach. Behind the papier-mache, the icing, the plastic, she can still see the real witch, the real magic. She looks up at me, her eyes, which are the blue-green of the Earth seen from a great height, shining. “Are we staying? Are we staying here?” I have to remind her to speak French. “But are we? Are we?” She clings to my sleeve. Her hair is a candyfloss tangle in the wind.
Tone & voice: light, observational, questioning
came, frying, cooked, rolling, is, craning, catch, char, trailing, have, seen, decorated, chars, marching, Grosses, lolling, heads, drum, retains, decorated, waggling, is, perceive, are, reach, can, see, looks, are, seen, shining, Are, staying, Are, staying, have, remind, speak, are, Are, clings, is, tangle
down, hastily, later, already, still, here
warm, laden, hot, greasy, powdery-sweet, hotplate, confetti, sleeting, idiot, febrile, narrow, main, crepe-covered, wide, yellow, other, sad, brown, carnivals, last, majorettes, batons, spinning, sparkling, special, wooden, gilt, crepe, dragon’s, gingerbread, gilded, extravagant, green, silent, possible, real, real, magic, blue-green, great, French, candyfloss
Word and phrase choices: “laden”, “sleeting”, “idiot antidote”, “febrile excitement”, “procession”, “retains a special lustre”, “perceive subtleties”, “a candyfloss tangle”
Style: Long, flowing sentences make the prose lyrical, lots of similes and metaphors to create imagery.
(Verb, adverb, adjective example lists using the link above)
Developing your voice is something that will take time. It’s something that may even change between projects or genres. The more you write and practise, the easier it will become to identify the patterns of your style and draw out your unique voice.
Meet Isobelle Lans
Isobelle Lans is a UK-based fiction editor and book coach. She works with writers at all stages of the writing journey to help them hone their storytelling skills and write their best books. Isobelle believes in nurturing a writer's talent and personalising her approach to editing and coaching to each individual.